You Don’t Need a Tragic Flaw, Just the Wrong Woman

LipstickAny time you are having trouble structuring your story’s plot and look for advice… God help you.  It’s a heaving sea of templates and graphs and step-ins and theories and jargon, and many run to book length. Some, like “Hero’s Journey” verge on being religions.

I would suggest that you look for the simplest, most powerful skeleton key you can find.  And I’ll be a little more directive; I think it might be this video by Michael Arndt, who wrote Toy Story 3 for Pixar.  Yes, it’s about screenwriting. Yes, it deals only with the first act… but the principles are valid in any story, and once your first act is nailed down, you’re on your way.   See it here: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/04/get-your-first-act-written-pixars-michael-arndt-shows-how-video/

An even simpler, and very time-tested, principle that cuts you to the chase is the concept of “tragic flaw”. Remember that from reading Hamlet and Macbeth and Sophocles?  Anybody will tell you that your hero or protagonist or MC or whatever you want to call them doesn’t absolutely have to have a “tragic flaw”.  But it sure does make it easier.

As Arndt says, faced with trouble, he can take the moral high road or the low road of his own weakness…and if he takes the high road you don’t have a story. Another term for “taking the low road” is “tragic flaw”.

But there is another way to set that mechanism up without there being anything wrong with your main guy.  You don’t need a flawed main man—just hook him up with a woman who’s no good for him and let her do him wrong. My best-reviewed and most popular novel is “Sweet Spot”, featuring baseball star turned Mazatlan political journalist Mundo Carrasco.  He’s a character that both men and woman alike find pleasant: he’s a main thing that’s made that book sell.  But there is nothing really wrong with him. What he has, to generate conflict and dip him in the soup, is an obsession with a woman. And she is a femme most definitely fatale, no question in your mind that he should get the hell away from her. But what’s a guy going to do when he’s being led by the leading portion of his anatomy? He’s infatuated. That’s a real key to the appeal of that book: chicks dig the idea of a guy who’s so gone on a woman that he’ll follow her right down the tubes. Continue reading “You Don’t Need a Tragic Flaw, Just the Wrong Woman”

Playing With Character Interviews

Mastermind-chairYou are unlikely to recall my wail of despair a few months ago regarding making the switch from non-fiction to fiction. Just in case you have been fretting on my behalf however, it’s sort of going ok, thanks. And I’ve had an idea. I don’t actually know yet whether I’m a plotter or a pantser so I have been trying to work with a few ‘rules’, to see where they lead me. If they go nowhere, I will stop trying to plot and begin to just pants. Which is kinda rude if you’re a Brit. Where was I? Oh yes…

I was reading RJ’s brilliant post about story bibles last month and followed her trail back to Arline Chase’s post about character creation. I dutifully set about fleshing out my people in the manner described. I set up a spreadsheet, honestly I did. It had all the stuff on it that you need to know about your people, their motivation, their challenges, their appearance, childhood, food choices, the lot. And I sat and looked at it for ages. I put two characters’ names into the right spots and stared at the empty boxes. It felt like those awful ‘comprehension’ exercises that people in their late 50s who were educated in the UK may recall. You read a passage from a book, which you might have quite enjoyed, but then you had to spoil all that by proving to someone else that you understood what it meant. Continue reading “Playing With Character Interviews”

The Elements of Persuasion

A part of the leadership training program I used to teach addressed the importance of shaping a message. This is critical, whether dealing with the media or with legislators.

The object of shaping the message is to persuade others to your point of view in a matter.

As writers, it is also our job to persuade. Walt Morton wrote a great piece for us on the suspense of disbelief. I’d like to go a little more in depth here and discuss some of the specific strategies we can (and do) employ to that effect. Continue reading “The Elements of Persuasion”

Thoughts on Killing Off a Character

Guest post
by Sophie Schiller

In my novel, “Spy Island”, the protagonist, a girl named Abigail, is compelled to cross the Caribbean Sea by steamer during WWI to live with her spinster aunt. On the journey, she strikes up a friendship with Ian, an Irish sailor. I incorporated those witty Irish expressions and that unmistakable Irish humor that wraps around you like a Shamrock wool blanket.

Ian’s Irish red hair burned the pages of my manuscript. His Cheshire cat grin, his twinkling eyes, his Gaelic sense of humor and manner of speaking, and his vulnerability captivated my Writing Class. And now we come to the “killing off part”. Out of a sense of duty and patriotism, Ian stalks a wanted German spy and turns up dead—a corpse lying in a pool of blood—on the boat deck.

The ladies in my Writing Group bristled at this notion. They demanded a rewrite. “But it’s crucial to the development of my story,” I argued. “If Ian doesn’t die, Abigail has no reason to hunt down German spies.” They shook their heads. “Change it!” they demanded. Again my brow wrinkled. Change it? And so, pen in hand, I kept the ominous pool of blood but removed the corpse. They were satisfied. But the question remains. When is it appropriate to kill off a character? Continue reading “Thoughts on Killing Off a Character”

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